In a testy, physical Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Rangers and Capitals, special teams were the difference Thursday night in Washington's 3-1 victory.
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Trailing the Rangers by a goal after the first period despite outshooting them 12-1 at one point, the Capitals grabbed the momentum with Alex Ovechkin's power-play goal. They finished off the Rangers with two goals in 46 seconds in the second period after killing five-on-three and five-on-four power plays.
"The playoffs are about momentum swings and trying not to get hurt when you lose the momentum," Ryan Callahan said, "and tonight we got hurt when we lost it. Before that power-play goal, I think we were starting to come there in the second. We got our legs underneath us, and that five-minute span ended up hurting us."
It was the Capitals' eighth win in the last nine games at home against the Rangers in the playoffs, although the Rangers eliminated them last season in seven games, with the clincher at the Garden. The Caps were 15-8-1 at Verizon Center in the regular season. Game 2 is here at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Rangers, who led 1-0 after the first period on Carl Hagelin's wraparound goal that banked off defenseman John Erskine's skate past Braden Holtby (35 saves), were the NHL's least penalized team during the season, but they were in the box six times against the NHL's top power play.
"We can't take that many penalties," coach John Tortorella said. "They did get a good bounce off the boards [on Ovechkin's goal]. You can't take two in a row. Hopefully, we will discipline ourselves the next game."
At 1-1, the Rangers had the opportunity to take the lead when Martin Erat was sent off for boarding at 9:40 and Eric Fehr was assessed a double-minor for interference and roughing in a scrum at 10:44. Callahan also was in the box at 10:44, but the Rangers could not convert with the two-man advantage for 39 seconds or the five-on-four for 1:03. "You are trying to get something there," Tortorella said. "We didn't."
Minutes later, rookie defenseman Steve Oleksy's home run pass from the Capitals' zone was collected by Marcus Johansson at the Rangers' blue line between Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. He sped in and Henrik Lundqvist got only a piece of his wrister with his left arm. The goal at 14:21 gave the Caps a 2-1 lead.
Jason Chimera spun along the left boards and his shot, which at first appeared to be tipped in front, went past Lundqvist at 15:07.
"I have to be more solid on the ice there," Lundqvist said. "I probably expected a pass and I was a little slow to react, but it doesn't matter. I have to stop that. It was just those couple minutes there where they hurt us. If you take away those five or 10 minutes, we played a pretty strong game."
Callahan said the Rangers can rebound. "You come in on the road, you want to win one out of two, and we've still got one left here,'' he said. "We generated some offense off of our cycle. When we were hard on our forecheck, that's when we got our chances. That's something we have to bring on the next game."